FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 15, 2008
Contact: Melody Fowler-Green, Attorney
Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director
WINCHESTER, Tennessee – Middle Tennessee nursery owner Michael Allison has settled a lawsuit filed by six Mexican guestworkers after the former employees alleged they were provided with poor working and housing conditions and not paid adequate wages or transportation costs.
Represented by Southern Migrant Legal Services (SMLS), the workers alleged that Allison, owner of Allison Tree Digging, paid them less than the minimum wage, failed to reimburse them for necessary expenses, breached their employment contracts, and retaliated against workers who tried to enforce their labor rights. The workers claimed that their employment was terminated after they complained about the conditions. The workers were employed between 1999 and 2008.
“Employers cannot terminate workers just because they stand up for their rights,” said Melody Fowler-Green, the SMLS attorney representing the workers. “If employers want to benefit from the guestworker program, they need to follow the rules.”
The workers were hired under the federal H-2A program which allows agricultural employers to request temporary visas for foreign workers when domestic labor cannot be found. The settlement comes as the Department of Labor has proposed changes to the H-2A program that would decrease worker protections and lower wages.
Added Fowler-Green, “This case, and the many others we handle on behalf of H-2A workers, just underscores how horrible the current regulations are for worker rights. The proposed changes will only erode those rights even further.”
Southern Migrant Legal Services is a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) that provides free legal services to migrant and seasonal farm workers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients in a 68-county service area. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income Texas residents by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services.